A Subject Without Identity


Foucault says “an art of oneself that’s the exact opposite of oneself…” If there’s a subject, it’s a subject without any identity. Subjectification as a process is personal or collective individuation, individuation one by one or group by group. Now, there are many types of individuation. There are subject-type individ­uations ( “that’s you…,” “that’s me…”) , but there are also event­-type individuations where there’s no subject: a wind, an atmosphere, a time of day, a battle… One can’t assume that a life, or a work of art, is individuated as a subject; quite the reverse. Take Foucault himself: you weren’t aware of him as a person exactly. Even in trivial situations, say when he came into a room, it was more like a changed atmosphere, a sort of event, an electric or magnetic field or something. That didn’t in the least rule out warmth or make you feel uncomfortable, but it wasn’t like a person. It was a set of intensities.

It sometimes annoyed him to be like that, or to have that effect. But at the same time all his work fed upon it. The visible is for him mirrorings, scin­tillaions, flashes, lighting effects. Language is a huge “there is,” in the third person-as opposed to any particular person, that’s to say­ an intensive language, which constitutes his style. In the conversation with Schroeter, once again, he develops an opposition between “love” and “passion, ” and presents himself as a creature of passion rather than love. It’s an extraordinary text; since it’s only an informal conversation, Foucault doesn’t try to provide any philosophical basis for the distinction. He talks about it on an immediate, vital level. The distinction is nothing to do with constancy or inconstancy. Nor is it one between homosexuality and heterosexuality, though that’s discussed in the text. It’s a distinction between to kinds of individuation: one, love, through persons, and the other through intensity, as though passion dissolved persons not into something undifferentiated but into a field of various persisting and mutually interdependent intensities (“a constantly shifting state, but not tending toward any given point, with strong phases and weak phases, phases when it becomes incandescent and everything wavers for an unstable moment we cling to for obscure reasons, perhaps through inertia; it seeks, ultimately, to persist and to disappear… being oneself no longer makes any sense”). Love’s a state of, and a relation between, persons, subjects. But passion is a subpersonal event that may last as long as a lifetime ( “I’ve been living for eighteen years in a state of passion about someone, for someone”), a field of intensities that individuates independently of any subject. Tristan and Isolde, that may be love. But someone, referring to this Foucault text, said to me: Catherine and Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights, is passion, pure passion, not love. A fearsome kinship of souls, in fact, something not altogether human (who is he? A wolf…). It’s very difficult to express, to convey-a new distinction between affective states. Here we come up against the unfinished character of Foucault’s work. He might perhaps have given this distinction a philosophical range as wide as life. It should teach us, at least, to be very careful about what he calls a “mode of subjectifca­tion.” For such modes involve subjectless individuations. That may be their main feature. And perhaps passion, the state of passion, is actually what folding the line outside, making it endurable, knowing how to breathe, is about. All those who are so saddened by Foucault’s death may perhaps rejoice in the way that such a monumental body of work breaks off with an appeal to passion.

– Gilles Deleuze, “A Portrait of Foucault,” Negotiations, 115-116.

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